A stroll in Saussines

(adapted from « Flanerie à Saussines » from the Pays de Lunel)


A 45 min- hike. Circuit starts at the school

Starting from Lunel, follow the D 135 to Saussines village. Opposite the winery, turn left onto St Victor street, at the junction, park on the left on Montpellier Avenue in front of the school.

The name of the village is supposed to take after the Roman word Salcinis first mentioned in 844 AD on Charles the Bald‘s decree ( a Royal Act written on parchment and sealed by the king) : “ in villa Salsinas ecclesiam S. Stephani 844 A D” – a ‘villa’ meant a group of houses and patches of land, at that time.

It’s one of the oldest ‘village’ in the Vidourle valley though there are no ancient houses dating back to the Middle Ages except St Stephen church. Most of the buildings are from the 17th, 18th & 19th century.

Take Montpellier avenue to the Town hall square. As you proceed you will see :

  • Old winegrowers’ houses which highlight the impact of winegrowing in the area.
  • What’s called “empègues” (From the Occitan word “empegar” which means “stick”). These are marks, stenciled on walls or gates, which testify that the owners have given some money to help with the festivities (see “Visiting Saussines”). Young people go from house to house and deliver buns for a few coins. Those marks are all symbols of the Camargue bull and horse games.
  • Flora : olive-trees, fig-trees, nettle-trees, cypresses, pine-trees that can be seen all along the hike, are Mediterranean species adapted to the area.

The fig-tree can withstand frost and heat waves. It can grow on any soil or support.

The nettle-tree, in ancient Greek means “the one that produces tiny berries”. In Italy, at one time, it was called “hunting devil” and was planted in front of the churches because it was said to drive the devil away.

The cypress-tree is the traditional tree of cemeteries in the South of France. Its name comes from Cyprus island. Its candle – like shape acts as a windbreak.

The olive-tree, a symbol of fertility because of its capacity to grow again after severe frosts or fires is also a symbol of strength since it can live for a very long time as well as a symbol of wisdom and of course, of peace. It is regarded as the most precious tree in the South.

The mulberry-tree, plentiful in the village is a reminder of silkworm industry in the area.

The town hall :This building housed both town hall and primary school after the law of June 1833. The building dates back to the mid-19th century. Girls’ classes and boys’ classes were on the ground floor but they were separated into two classrooms (becoming co-ed in the fifties). On the first floor was the teachers’ flat, next to the public telephone (just under the bell tower).

Take the “Rue des Sources” and keep going as far as the junction with St Hilaire avenue. At the junction you’ll see an old trough and a pump. Turn right then make a first left on a field path which leads you to…

One of the old wash-houses (or rather washtubs). Three springs gave water to the village, and there were two main open – air washing-places (they had no roof). The second one is on the road to Sommières. The others were along St Hilaire Avenue but were destroyed after the second world war. They were smaller and two or three families shared one washtub so there were about 10 of these.

After the washing-place, take the first right, “Rue Mistral”. On the right, you’ll pass an ancient blacksmith’s shop rehabilitated into a media-library. Then turn left “Rue du Foyer” (“Foyer rural” used to be a community house in a village ). The church is in front of you.

The church

In 1090, the Maguelone Abbey Cartulary mentions a priory depending on Psalmodi Abbey. The church was built in the 11th century onwards. This beautiful post Romanesque construction has been classified as a historic monument and is one of the best preserved monuments in the Vidourle valley. The Duke of Rohan destroyed the original church steeple in 1622 during the religious wars in Languedoc.

Oral tradition has it that the two lines you can see on the southern wall have been carved in the 17th century by the Duke of Rohan leader of the Protestants, as a kind of blame mark or ban, to punish the villagers who had warned Montlaur castle of an impending attack. Access to the church was prohibited. This is called legend by some who say those marks are traces of old buildings.

The apse was possibly raised in the 14th century. The western side, monumental and austere, has a double recessed entrance, framed by two blind porches. The decoration inside is exceptional : a variety of geometrical design, foliage and historiated column capitals.

Go down Church Street onto St Hilaire avenue, make a first right then a second right onto “Rue du Château”. All along the circuit, have a look at houses of character, all made of stone.

The castle

Saussines’s landed estate was vassalized to Pierre de Ribaute in 1183. Up to the middle of the 12th century a member of the De Bashi family Lord of Aubais becomes Lord of Saussines.

In 1644 Etienne de Cazalet becomes the first independent squire. He has a “castle” built. The main entrance is still situated South. It opened onto a large hall with two large rooms on each side and the commons at the back. A flight of stairs led to the upper floors.

At the beginning of the 18th century Louis de Solas decided to have a real castle and built the northern aisle. The two buildings were connected through a gallery built over the main courtyard. This gallery led to another flight of stairs and the dungeon.

The Northern aisle between the courtyard and the gardens has kept its mullioned windows.

In 1740 Aristarque De meaux de Fortunezay became the new squire. His son didn’t emigrate during the 1789 revolution but became citizen Demeaux.

Then the villagers bought the lands and the castle was divided into two parts, each with different owners who tried to preserve this testimony of the past.

Go on with your stroll and turn left onto ‘Main street’ then onto the ‘Rue du Moulin à vent’ (Windmill street ) where you’ll be sure to note an Art Deco style facade.

Cross the “New street”( Rue Neuve ) and take the alleyway called ‘Caillerette’ which takes you down to “Avenue de Boisseron”. Now turn left if you want to have a look at the washing spot mentioned before, on Sommières road. It’s on the right at the junction below the level of the road.

Go back to “Rue Neuve” and the carpark.

The winegrowers’ houses :

They are in great number ; they represent the history of winegrowing in the Vidourle region and are still to be seen in the village. The oldest ones (next to the church) have outdoor stairways and used to have a cellar or a shed on the ground floor, they belonged to modest families.

Along the “Rue Neuve “ a series of remarkable wine growers’ dwellings stand as witnesses of the wealth of the village at the end of the 19th century. They have huge gates and stone pillars, a private cellar and a bourgeois – style family house.

Photos, past and present from the compilation « Memories from Saussinois »: